EXCLUSIVE: Secret U.S.-Israel nuclear accord in jeopardy

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A proposal to introduce a Security Council resolution declaring the Middle East a nuclear-free zone and calling for sanctions against those countries that did not comply was broached in a 2006 strategic dialogue between Saudi Arabia and the United States, said Turki al-Faisal, who was Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

“When I talked to American officials about that when I was ambassador here, and before that to British officials in the U.K., the immediate response was, ‘Israel is not going to accept,’ ” Prince Turki told editors and reporters of The Washington Times last month. “And my immediate response was, ‘So what?’ If Israel doesnt accept, it doesnt mean its a bad idea.”

A balancing act

Mr. Netanyahu, whose meeting with Mr. Obama on May 18 will be the first since both took office, raised the issue of the nuclear understanding during a previous tenure as prime minister.

Israeli journalists and officials said Mr. Netanyahu asked for a reaffirmation and clarification of the Nixon-Meir understanding in 1998 at Wye River, where the U.S. mediated an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu wanted a personal commitment from President Clinton because of concerns about a treaty that Mr. Clinton supported to bar production of fissile materials that can be used to make weapons. Israel was worried that the treaty would apply to de facto nuclear states, including Israel, and might oblige it to allow inspections of Dimona.

In 2000, Israeli journalist Aluf Benn disclosed that Mr. Clinton at Wye River promised Mr. Netanyahu that “Israels nuclear capability will be preserved.” Mr. Benn described as testy an exchange of letters between the two leaders over the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. He said Mr. Netanyahu wrote Mr. Clinton: “We will never sign the treaty, and do not delude yourselves - no pressure will help. We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide.”

The Bush administration largely dropped the treaty in its first term and reopened negotiations in its second term with a proposal that did not include verification.

The Obama agenda

Mr. Obama has made nuclear disarmament a bigger priority in part to undercut Iran’s and North Korea’s rationale for proliferation. His administration has begun negotiations with Russia on a new treaty to reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals. He also has expressed support for the fissile material treaty.

“To cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons,” he said last month in Prague. “If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them.”

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank, said such a treaty would be the first step toward limiting the Israeli nuclear program.

“The question is how much of a priority is this for the Obama administration?” he said.

John R. Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of state, said Israel was right to be concerned.

“If I were the Israeli government, I would be very worried about the Obama administration’s attitude on their nuclear deterrent,” he said. “You can barely raise the subject of nuclear weapons in the Middle East without someone saying: ‘What about Israel?’ If Israel’s opponents put it on the table, it is entirely possible Obama will pick it up.”

Asked about the issue, Jonathan Peled, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said, “We don’t discuss the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel.” The White House had no immediate comment.

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